Book Club: Into The Black

Last month’s Book Club selection was Into The Black by Evan Currie (587 Kindle pages, 39 chapters). Admittedly, I wasn’t thrilled about 600 pages of military space opera. But I was determined to stay open minded if only for the sake of learning about the craft of writing science fiction. After all, that is why I participate in this club.

The first few chapters didn’t give me any hope. They were slow with little tension or intrigue. In true military fashion style, they were regimented. The introduction of the captain, Eric Weston and other key members of the crew of the Odyssey, the first ship constructed with a transition drive system, allowing for faster-than-light travel.

It wasn’t that the pace was slow. To the contrary, the narrative had a nice, even flow. I’m a reader who likes backstory at the beginning of a story. Getting to know the characters is important to me. It’s how I decide if I can invest in them or not, and a lot of characters were introduced. Otherwise, nothing really happened in the early chapters. Or what did happen wasn’t very thrilling: the official transfer of command, the requisite press conference, departure for the mission, weapons tests, refueling near Saturn, etc. I felt the story started in Chapter 3.

Despite the slow start, I flew through this book – all 600 pages. Anyone who has read my previous reviews knows that I’m a tough reader to satisfy, and it’s been a long time since I wanted to do nothing but read a book. I enjoyed the story so much that I wasn’t pulled out of it by any infractions of the writing fundamentals. If there were any violations, I was blissfully unaware. Nor was my suspense of belief tested. I believed (and understood) everything I read.

The consensus of the Book Club was the story had a very Star Trek ambiance about it, which probably explains my fondness for it. The thing about every reiteration of Star Trek are the captains and their crews. For me, Kirk and Picard are my all-time favorite captains. Now Captain Weston and the crew of the Odyssey have earned the top spot. The rest of the Book Club didn’t share my enthusiasm. They liked the book, but thought the Star Trek spin was cliché.

Likewise, the Odyssey’s fighter squadron, the Archangels, were reminiscent of the Star Wars starfighters. Oddly, my reading of this book coincided with the release of the Top Gun sequel. But let me tell you, those Top Gun flyboys, past and present, got NOTHING on the Archangels! Like anyone who flies the likes of F-16 fighters, they possess a suave bravado and a ton of moxie. The difference: the Archangels past and present commanders, Weston and Stephanos, have a humility about them.  

Finally, the battle scenes. I’m notorious for putting a book down whenever the plot seems to move from one action scene to another. In such cases, it starts to feel reactive to me. Not enough word count is devoted to developing intrigue at a slower pace. Without any spoilers, most of Into The Black are battles. The difference was they were very short scenes with the myriad of characters: Captain Weston on board the Odyssey, Stephano’s squadron in dogfights with the opposition, and the various special teams forces on the surface of the planet. The impact of these short snippets was over the top intensity. The only reason that I put this book down was to catch my breath.

Needless to say, Into The Black earned a spot on my bookshelf. Though I probably won’t read any of the other six books in the series. While I want more of Captain Weston and his crew, I want the story of this first book to remain unadulterated.

Up next for June is Year Zero by Rob Reid:

Low-level entertainment lawyer Nick Carter thinks it’s a prank, not an alien encounter, when a redheaded mullah and a curvaceous nun show up at his office. But Frampton and Carly are highly advanced (if bumbling) extraterrestrials. And boy, do they have news. The entire cosmos, they tell him, has been hopelessly hooked on humanity’s music ever since “Year Zero” (1977 to us), when American pop songs first reached alien ears. This addiction has driven a vast intergalactic society to commit the biggest copyright violation since the Big Bang. The resulting fines and penalties have bankrupted the whole universe. We humans suddenly own everything—and the aliens are not amused. Nick now has forty-eight hours to save humanity, while hopefully wowing the hot girl who lives down the hall from him.

The author, Rob Reid, was the founder, CEO, and Chairman of Listen.com, the online music company that developed the Rhapsody music service. Listen was the first online music company to secure full-catalog licenses from all of the major labels. So the book’s nuance and details should be authentic.

Until next time, happy reading!

World History 101

Photo by Adam Nieścioruk on Unsplash

I’ve spent the last few days organizing my created world file for The Venerable Dawn: Ascension (working title). This file includes everything from the initial dump of my worldbuilding thoughts to the most recent reiteration of its elements. During the first draft, I layered in bits and pieces of worldbuilding throughout the narrative, and like the story, my world evolved. As I worked on the second draft, I experienced a moment where I felt a few of the pieces weren’t cohesive. The logic didn’t flow in my mind, and I decided I needed to spend some time on my World History 101 textbook.

Speculative fiction is set in a created world. Depending on the genre, these universes can be quite elaborate. Those in science fiction and high fantasy, the most intricate. As a contemporary fantasy, my created world parallels our own universe with a slight deviation. Humans with a genetic variation, a magick gene.

Like their terrestrial peers, college-aged trubreds are required to take two courses of World History as part of their indoctrination. And like other gen ed course requirements, the material becomes vague over the years. Many of us can relate to the mandatory US Government classes in high school and college. We remember the basics, but many of the finer details are lost.

Hence, my late thirty-something main characters are continuously reminded to do their homework to refresh their memories by their mentor. Their destinies depend on it. Not one to follow anyone or anything, my protagonist realizes it’s in her best interest to use the history textbook to help her understand and accept her unwelcome fate. If she has no choice in the matter, she’s determined to be prepared as much as possible. Even if it’s nothing but a bunch of hocus-pocus to her.

Someday, I’ll publish my World History 101 textbook as a companion to the series. The current word count is about 17,000 or 40 pages, with more organizing and editing to be completed. For now, I’ve organized the pieces that caused me to pause, and to my delight, they are cohesive. I just needed a refresher.  Okay, where was I? Oh yeah, chapter four.

Happy New Year!

Book Club

Have you heard the advice: learn to write by reading? I think reading is a fundamental part of the apprenticeship. To my dismay, I fail this lesson far too often. Not because I don’t like reading. To the contrary, I love books and good storytelling.

My love of reading started in elementary school. I’d rather huddle under a shady tree with a good book than play with the other kids at recess. This hobby carried into my high school and college years. Though course material took precedence, I managed to do both at the same time by taking a lot of literature classes. Way too many Shakespeare courses, and my favorite, Intro to Science Fiction. I lived the dream, getting college credit for reading the classics by Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury and Herbert to name a few. Later in life, my interest shifted from speculative fiction to mysteries. Martha Grimes, Dick Francis and Sue Grafton.

When career and family dominate life, sacrifices must be made because we can’t do everything.[1] For me, reading was one of the costs. Gone were the days of curling up with a good book all day on the weekends. Instead, it was relegated to when I went to bed. And that was a major fail. Two pages in, and I was in la-la land, dreaming my own fantastical tales.

Yet, I truly believe reading is essential to learning the craft. There is nothing like a well-written and compelling story to inspire my writing. While time isn’t as much of a hurdle now, it still influences my priorities. Once I grab hold of an idea, I become quite driven, and writing takes priority now. When I do read, a lot of the material is about the craft. My solution to overcoming my bad habit – join a book club.

I found an online SciFi group. The catch is I’m more of a fantasy reader than science fiction. I tend to gloss over the scientific explanations, missing essential facets of the story. The result is I don’t always finish the monthly selections. I give it 100 pages. If I struggle to get to this point, I’m out. My library card helps me save valuable space on my bookshelves for those works I genuinely love.  

The unintended benefit is listening to the other readers’ perspectives. These people are avid readers and sci-fi fans. None are writers, but they are so well-read. I love hearing their thoughts about the books. In September, we read Dune, just in time for the movie release in October. I’ve been a huge fan of this classic for too many years to admit. But I heard the strangest viewpoints. Some that never crossed my mind, and in the right forum, I’d like to debate.

If you are like me and undisciplined about reading on a regular basis – join a book club. At the very least, you’ll get to hear what works and doesn’t work for devoted readers. Case in point – hard-core scifi fans don’t like any romance in their stories. Another reason I write fantasy.

BTW, I continue to struggle with the lullaby effect of reading at night. It has to be quite a compelling story for me to get through more than a chapter. Though it is the best cure for falling asleep after those 3am sessions, dumping the ideas flooding my mind into an email. Sweet dreams, friends.


[1] Many try, but few succeed. Pick your battles; stick with what you value the most and give it your all.